There are plenty of high-profile success stories of college dropouts who become world-changing CEOs, including Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. In fact, 63 out of the 400 ranked individuals in the 2014 Forbes Billionaire List were college dropouts. It’s not surprising, then, that many budding entrepreneurs (my 13-year-old son included) no longer see college as a necessary path to success.
I understand the drive to start your venture as soon as possible.
The last thing you want to do is miss the open window for your market. My husband and I launched our first business while we were still in law school. Had we waited an extra year, thus allowing other competitors to stake a foothold in the market, our business might not have been as successful as it is today.
However, starting early doesn’t necessarily mean you need to forgo your diploma. It’s possible to launch a business while in school and still manage to graduate. Here are some tips to help you balance school and a startup.
1. Find the right partners.
In college, you’re surrounded by thousands of smart, energetic and creative people. It’s a perfect pool to find a team to help you with your venture. Look for people who have skills or personalities that mesh with your own characteristics (as well as the overall feel of your business).
Pro tip: Diversity is key. If you’re more introverted and tech-savvy, look for someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. An outgoing individual with a knack for marketing can effectively promote your ideas.
2. Allocate time.
School gives you structure: classes, homework and exams are scheduled for you, and there are usually consequences for absences and half-ditch efforts. But when launching a business, it’s up to you to create structure and self-discipline. Pick a day or two when everyone on the team can work together in the same room. Hold everyone — including yourself — accountable for keeping up with any scheduling and task commitments.
3. Think strategically.
During your college years, you’ll have access to a multitude of academic and advisory resources — and they don’t have to be utilized solely for homework and lectures.
Enroll in classes that can you help start and manage your business, even if they aren’t specific to your major. Electives are a great way to sneak in some marketing and economic classes. This will give you a better foundation for all that’s needed to run a business.
4. Look for funding options.
There are lots of entrepreneurial resources and opportunities out there that target undergrads.
- The University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) keeps a list of business plan competitions for students.
- Several venture capital (VC) firms — including First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures — have launched investment funds for undergrad entrepreneurs.
- Visit your School of Business, the economics department, professors or even the career center for additional resources.
5. Don’t waste your tuition.
College or graduate school requires a massive investment of both time and money. Whether you’re taking out loans or your parents are paying for your tuition, school is extremely expensive and that money shouldn’t be wasted. If you find yourself pulled between attending classes or working on your startup, ask yourself which path has a higher priority.
If your answer is the startup, it might be time to consider a leave of absence — you can always return to school when you can be more engaged.
Don’t be afraid to fail
I’ll be honest, you can be successful while starting a business in school — just don’t fret if it doesn’t make it off the ground. It’s OK to take a risk. College is one of the best times to give new ventures a try. Financial and career risks are scarier in the future when there’s a mortgage and potential family involved, so give your startup a go while the leeway is there.
Pro tip: Once you start something, see it through to the end.
If your startup doesn’t work out, you will still have gained invaluable experience and insight that will lend itself to your next business venture. No matter the outcome, your business could be the most defining experience of your college years.